Clear Your “Filters”

Early one recent morning, I turned on the hot water in my sink to shave. The water was hot and, um, rusty. I checked the other hot water outlets and found the same, copper-colored water. It was time to bring in Matt, our trusty plumbing & heating expert.

Matt came by within the hour and verified what we suspected: our water heater was on its last legs. It was nearly 20 years old, installed when our mountain abode was first built. Sediment and rust had built up over that time. We gave Matt the go ahead to replace it.

When Matt and his assistant installed the new water heater for us a few days later, Matt asked us what the two tanks were “in line,” feeding the water heater. We had no idea. There were no markings. He opened one up and found charcoal bits in a filter system. Apparently these tanks were also installed when our house was built. Designed to clean up the water from our well, the charcoal elements needed replacing regularly. We had never done that, and it is unlikely that the previous owner did anything with them. The filters had (probably) worked well early on, then did very little cleaning of the well water as it went through them.

Matt pulled the clogged tanks out and finished the installation of the new water heater. The next morning we I enjoyed not only sparkling hot water but amazingly strong water pressure. It seems the two old charcoal filter tanks robbed us of decent water pressure the entire six years we’ve live in this house. We never knew the water pressure that was possible! Once those clogged filters were removed from the process, water flowed efficiently and vigorously as we directed it.

What “Filters” Inhibit Clarity in your Organization?

In my work with senior leaders with culture initiatives, I find many times that their view of their organization’s “cultural reality” is not very accurate. They do not know what employees think about “how it is to work” in their organization. They believe that the information given to them is accurate, but they really don’t know if it is fully accurate or not.

They have many “filters” in place, including people, systems, and structure. The filtering that occurs is usually not intentional – but it is powerful. Filtered information may not give a complete picture of a situation. Decisions made based on filtered information may not solve problems, at all.

Three Ways to Reduce Filtering

Leaders at all levels validate the information they receive when they:

  • Increase the Information Channels You Scan.
    Seek data from a variety of direct sources. Learn about processes from the vantage point of suppliers, employees, and customers.
  • Measure What’s Really Important.
    Sometimes the metrics that are easy to measure aren’t the right things to measure. Decide what metrics are truly worth paying attention to, then do that. Day in and day out.
  • Manage by Wandering Around.
    Connect with individual leaders, supervisors, and staff regularly. Wander around and “buy coffee” for individuals and learn what they see as opportunities for improvement.

Clear your filters. Learn what’s really happening, day in and day out, with employees and customers. Get a clear view and change systems, policies, and procedures to remove frustration and enable action and service. Then, keep cleaning those filters . . . and modifying systems . . . and cleaning filters . . . regularly. Your employees and customers will love you for it.

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  • Good Morning Chris,

    Love the story and the truth you are illustrating.

    I’ve found myself out of touch with organizational culture many times. Your suggestions are helpful.

    One reason I can get out of touch is driving too hard toward mission and vision. Sometimes getting things done blinds me.

    Have a great week,


    • Thanks for the your insights, Dan! I’m totally in the “getting things done” camp. Over the years I learned that stopping to check to see “what forest I’m in” (from Covey’s 7 Habits) serves me well!



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